(Mike Royko is on vacation until June 17. While he is away, we are reprinting some of his favorite columns. This one was published in the Chicago Tribune March 17, 1987.)
ONE OF MY FONDEST curbstone theories has recently been confirmed by genuine scientific research.
It has to do with why some people are chronically grouchy and depressed while others are always bubbling with enthusiasm and looking at the bright side of life.
A psychologist took a close look at students who fell into both groups. He wanted to see how they reacted when they got poor grades.
He found that those who had the gloomier outlook of life generally blamed only themselves for their subpar performances.
In contrast, those who bounce happily through life with big smiles on their faces usually found some other reason for their failings. They blamed teachers for not doing a good job or for being unfair, or they said that something had distracted them, prevented them from doing their best work. In other words, it wasn't their fault.
After analyzing the excuses of both groups, the psychologist found that those who tended to be gloomy were right -- they had been at fault.
In contrast, the happiness-mongers were kidding themselves. They, too, were at fault, but they couldn't accept it, so they found someone else to blame.
Thus, the study came to the conclusion that those who were gloomy and depressed had a far more realistic view of themselves and life in general.
But the happiness-mongers had a tendency to be unrealistic.
This is what I've always believed: Show me somebody who is always smiling, always cheerful, always optimistic, and I will show you somebody who hasn't the faintest idea what the heck is really going on.
And that most maligned creature, the chronic grouch, is depressed because he knows that every dark cloud doesn't necessarily have a silver lining. It's more likely that the cloud contains acid rain.
Slats Grobnik put it neatly when a happiness-monger once looked in his gloomy face and said: "Hey, cheer up, things always have a way of getting better."
Slats said: "If things always have a way of getting better, how come funeral parlors do so much business?"
Somebody else once told him: "After the storm, there comes the rainbow."
Slats said: "After the storm, stupid, there comes the flooded basement."
And he had an answer when another happiness-monger told him: "Remember, it's always darkest before the dawn."
Slats said: "Then how come they waited until the sun came up to bomb Pearl Harbor?"
Just look in the history books. I defy anyone to show me a
picture of Abe Lincoln with a big smile on his
face. He may have been the most depressed, gloom-filled man ever to hold the office of president. That's because he knew what was going on and that there was a lot to be depressed about.
In contrast, we had Ronald Reagan, who was seldom seen without a slap-happy smile. That's because -- as Reagan himself told us -- he didn't always know what was going on.
So we had one president who was gloomy when the most terrible weapon known to man was the short-range cannon. And we had another who couldn't stop chuckling at a time when mankind has the capacity to vaporize itself.
And that should be enough to make the rest of us stop grinning.
Or try looking at the picture of the happy show-biz people who are always being shown in People magazine attending parties. Of course they look happy. Between the hooch and the powder they're snorting, they don't know which of their ends is up.
Contrast their facial expressions with those you see in the morning on commuter trains, buses or behind the wheels of cars. These people know exactly where they are and where they are going. They are going to work. That is reality. And that's why they're not giggling.
So I hope that above-mentioned scientific research helps put an end to the idea that people who smile a lot are in some way better than those who frown.
The scientists might even consider Slats Grobnik's theory that smiling is unnatural, that it defies nature, while frowning is a natural, since gravity pulls our faces downward.
"If nature wanted us to smile all the time," he has said, "then we would have been born with our heads upside down."
1% That is something to think about.